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www.zidao.com Apprentice harmonizer, for sheer fun. Journeywoman writer, for work and pleasure. Starting point was Iowa, current stopping point on this journey is Switzerland, with frequent pauses around the world to watch and listen to the crowd, and occasionally make comments.

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Monday, January 30, 2006

Digital time capsules (3)


Santiago de Chile in orange: lights and shadows

Chile's new president is a woman, but more importantly, she is the fourth elected president in 16 years of democracy, since Pinochet's dictatorship was overthrown. The gunmen ran the place for 17 years, so the voters have nearly caught up.

I spent a little time in Chile, on a business trip to visit several schools three years ago. I bought this scarf at an outdoor market, a place I had walked to alone at night because teachers I'd met told me I could, that Santiago de Chile was a relatively safe city. A young woman with a face that had no European ancestors, and who spoke no English, managed to explain that these came from her hill town. The scarves were simple and not particularly stylish, but the colors were vibrant and the alpaca wool wondrously soft to the touch.

While winter was easing its way around the windows back home in Switzerland, spring was bringing magnificent flowers to fields and gardens in Santiago. The vineyards were turning green, in contrast to the brown Andean slopes that rose behind the city.


The best flowers were in the shantytown school that I visited, real ones in a garden lovingly tended by the parents and children of the school. The city did not have enough money to educate all the migrants streaming in and leaning one tin shack next to another, but the families hungered for education. A local international school, Redlands, joined forces with the families who had moved from the hill towns, and never have I seen such pride in a school community.

We talked about politics, about Pinochet and Allende, with some caution. Mothers talked more openly about their lives as maids in the rich homes across the gully from the school. Teachers talked about the problem of men and drink, and too little work. The city, but more particularly the shantytown, was streaked with the brightness of lives aching to be lived, and the shadows of poverty that left so much darkness, and yet it was a rich darkness.

I look at my scarf on a January day in Switzerland, and its warmth and softness seem to carry threads of the light and shadows of Chile. I wish the new president a Chilean future worthy of the colors her country produces.

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